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Austria

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I love to travel, and I love to bake, and when those worlds collide is when my own world feels balanced. While in Salzburg, Austria over the summer, my friend Sam and I took a class in making apple strudel, a renowned Austrian treat that might clash with visions of wiener schnitzel, and isn’t the famed sachertorte, but is important to the fabric of the country’s cuisine.

The Edelweiss Cooking School is housed in a cavernous chamber, set in the Mönchsberg Mountain just outside of the Old Town. There are no markers denoting the school, so slipping into the cool room and adjusting my eyes felt like a delicious secret. Our instructor mentioned that this was once someone’s home, which we could see from the bunk bed whose frame still stood in an alcove.

Sam and I met our only other cooking companion, a middle-aged Australian woman who’d come here while her husband and their two friends commenced on a hike that she was overly uninterested in. The three of us, along with our instructor, had a blast. Sam and I set to work on our strudel, while the other woman and our instructor worked on the second. For an hour and a half we chatted, baked, and ate many traditional goodies; and we got to take the remainder of our apple strudel back with us. Silently, we were screaming, Score!

I have loved apple strudel since first coming to Salzburg two years ago, and taking the time to actually learn how to make it–and to do it with our own hands–made the trip here all the cooler. And it’s amazing to work through the process, to see for yourself the dough so seemingly breakable that can hold so much weight inside.

The strudel was way easier to make than you’d think by looking at it, and we were thrown straight into action. The instructor talked us through it in about five minutes and, with a smile and a clasp of her hands, beckoned for us to begin. She encouraged us along with patience and tips for assembling, and assured us of how possible this all was.

You know how Maria von Trapp sings of crisp apple strudels? Yup. That was made very possible.

Apple Strudel – A Quick History

The oldest known recipe of apple strudel, or the German apfelstrudel, hails from the 17th century. It’s a pastry that took shape with the rise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, its dough fashioned after Turkish and Hungarian cuisine, and is one of Austria’s national foods, an oblong filled with an apple-cinnamon-raisin mixture.

How to Make Apple Strudel

The dough was pre-made for us, because it needs to rest for about two hours. All that’s needed is to knead together flour, oil, water, and a pinch of salt, and to let it set.

STEP ONE: PREP THE FILLING

The instructor had already also cut up the apples for us, so we set to mixing the apples, the cinnamon, the sugar, the rum (MMHM!), and the raisins together until everything was evenly combined.

STEP TWO: ROLL AND STRECH THE DOUGH

So we got to sort of try our hand at being those pizza makers you see in cartoons, or in movies who sing in deep baritones and thoughtlessly toss their dough up into the air and catch it precisely. No, it didn’t leave our hands, but I was humming some sort of Italian melody to myself as Sam and I first rolled out the dough, then held it from opposite ends of our square table and used our fists to stretch and thin it out. Apple strudel dough is malleable and relatively hard to break, even thin, so we really worked it into its rectangle.

After rolling it out, we had to cut its rough edges off for that practically perfect shape and lather it in melted butter.

STEP THREE: ASSEMBLE THE STRUDEL

This was the step that worried both of us, because it’s one that you have to just do. We poured the filling mix onto one end of the dough, which was set on top of a floured tea towel spread across the table. Lifting the edge of the towel nearest the mixture, we had to nimbly toss the dough over it, and continue rolling it into tight formation.

“You can do this part,” Sam said to me, taking a step away from the dough. Eyeing the towel and the dough, making sure we were all on the same page, and with the instructor watching eagerly, I tightened my grip on the towel and sent the first roll of dough neatly over.

“That’s it!” The instructor exclaimed. Sam and I each did half of the roll, both of us giddily furling the log of raw pastry to the end. Using extra dough, our instructor made little shapes to put on each of our pastries as badges of identification. We topped it off with another dousing of melted butter.

STEP FOUR: BAKE

At 400 degrees F, bake for about 40 minutes, until it’s golden brown.

The Salzburger Nockerl

Sam and I had only booked the apple strudel making course, but we decided on a whim to upgrade to the full lunchtime class (complete with a goulash soup to start our feast with). Then, we were able to learn how to make Salzburger Nockerl, Salzburg’s answer to the French soufflé and a three-mounded delicacy whose appearance celebrates the three mountains the city is surrounded by. It took less than ten minutes to whip up, ten minutes to bake, and less than three minutes (after giving it a few minutes to cool) to vacuum up.

Using manual rotary hand beaters, we first beat eight egg whites until they were creamy, then added three tablespoons of sugar and continued to beat them for one minute. This is where it became important to be gentle: after adding the egg yolks, we had to use a whisk to fold custard powder and flour in. Following our instructor’s lead, we tilted our bowls and slowly, slowly folded everything together. (The extra emphasis is for me, who tends to over worry and takes extra time for my own assurance it will turn out well.)

We three shared a pan that was greased and based with three dollops of cranberry jam. One at a time and whipping out our trusty spatulas, we each layered our mixtures over the spots of jam, each of us now artists, tongue between teeth, holding our breath, eyes mere inches from our bowls as we said a prayer and watched as fluffy mounds formed on top.

The End Results

We were first treated to goulash soup, another favored Austrian dish. I was forced to activate my second and third stomachs in order to eat the treats we’d made, beginning with the nockerl. I have been obsessed with cranberry jam since this dessert, and was the icing on the cake of this light, vanilla-y dessert. Our mounds sort of became one–a mountain range, if you will. But they were easy to separate exactly.

We dug into the apple strudel next, and my gosh, was it glorious. Flaky, warm, a vision of cinnamon and sugar and apples, I was so proud of Sam and I. We kept turning to each other, nodding with mouths full, unable to speak but knowing exactly what the other meant. We still agree that this was our favorite activity during our travels. To create something traditional to another country, and now to be able to make it for everyone back home, was a really rewarding alternative activity.

Sam and I had apple strudel for breakfast the next couple of days, and the third guest at the school brought her entire strudel.

“Everyone’ll be so excited when they come back to this!” She said before returning into the sunlight to catch the taxi our instructor called for her.

For an alternative to-do, this is your must. And just think: your cooking repertoire will be easily enhanced.

WHERE TO BOOK

You can purchase tickets through their website or through Viator. Sam and I booked on Viator, a site I highly recommend for any sort of activities you may be looking for, and their pricing is slightly better than through the school’s direct site. You can find them here on Facebook for more photos, reviews, and recipes to remember how to make everything you learn!

ADDRESS: Ursulinenplatz 9, Salzburg, Austria

“Yo. Want to give us a lift?” Sam directed her question at a black car that drove past us, the driver barely glancing at two very red-faced girls sweating through their dresses, sitting/leaning against uneven rocks, and balancing slices of warm cheese and meats and grapes on our laps.

“This cheese is probably still good, right?” I asked, holding a slice and sniffing it as it drooped sadly over my fingers. We had only just bought it that morning, but it had been a victim of the staunch heat for probably an hour and a half by then. I ate two and a half slices.

I suggested Hohenwerfen Castle as a half day trip for us to embark on.

It had popped up in numerous searches I’d done for day trips outside of Salzburg, Austria, and stands among mountains that reach higher peaks the further out of the city you get. They also had a falconry exhibit, which wasn’t what really stirred my blood, but would be awesome to see. We thought we’d picnic on the grounds, enjoy the sights, and be intimidated by those creatures.

To get there, we took a 45-minute train to Werfen, and, as the castle website says, “A shady footpath takes you from the station directly to the adventure castle, which takes around half an hour.” We swiftly passed through spacious villages, through wilderness and mountains. There was no air conditioning on the train, so we kept our window open and relished in the harsh and howling wind pushed through.

A small sign outside of the Werfen train stop denoted Hohenwerfen Castle’s entrance location, and pointed to our right. We crossed the river slicing the town, and as we began walking my mountain-loving blood couldn’t contain itself, at points me exclaiming about the sheer glory we were in.

Maybe because it was hot, or because we weren’t actually sure we were going the right way–the fortress was perched precariously above us, and we headed for it, but the closer we got, the farther away it appeared–but the shady footpath felt a lot longer than that. So we found ourselves gasping (not really, but the drama of the word adds some oomph) for a breeze and some shade, one of which we sort of found.

There was a clearing that hugged rocky skyscrapers ahead, and, now dragging our feet underneath us, agreed to stop to rejuvenate with lunch. A number of cars zoomed by, and each time we desperately, jokingly, begged whoever would listen to take us, anywhere by then. Just out of the blazing sun. Two very pale, very sunburn and freckle-prone women shouldn’t be left exposed like that.

Our lunch was warm, though very tasty, and I popped grapes into my mouth like I were serving a Roman emperor. It gave us the burst we thought we needed to finish what little we probably had left.

But it wasn’t even the end of the walk. It was the end of Part 1. Part 2 was a more shaded uphill climb. Part 3 was along the highway.

Our other option was a scenic wooded hike. “Are you down?” I asked Sam. My legs burned just at the thought.

A breakdown-lane footpath. That’s where we found ourselves, naked to the eye of the sun, working our calves as we walked up, up, up, our torsos reaching ahead of our lower bodies and demanding our feet keep up.

It was a slight bout of misery. The area was the saving grace, making us push ahead. For a bit, I was a few feet ahead of Sam, and we were yelling complaints back and forth to one another. We passed a sign that listed Salzburg and the kilometers between us and the city, and Sam declared, “At this rate, we can walk all the way back!” Given that we had to take this route back to the train, we basically had.

I don’t remember at which point we came upon the parking site, just that when we had I was simultaneously thinking that I would probably have a crooked back  from carrying a tote bag with cameras, my journal, and other various necessities, on top of back problems I already had. Then we cheered and tried to forget that we had to do this again.

A two minute cable car lift carried us up to the fortress, and we just made the next guided tour. It was done with an audio guide, leading us through the small but secure castle. This felt less regal than the Hohensalzburg Fortress, but not less important. It is a region of villages and countryside, the castle built in a market town, a slower-paced alternative that I can get behind. Austria and Germany are very similar, and though, as I’ve said, I don’t have much experience in Germany, this felt like a very Austrian place. Like a quick drive to ski down those mountains or eat some hearty schnitzel.

I also love being in Austria because I don’t know much about it besides where I’ve been.

As an avid history lover, there’s a fair amount of knowledge I could spout about at least five other European nations, not to mention some Asian countries and the whole of America. But I’ve never taken classes that delve into the history of Austria. Once a stronghold in a European empire, and with impressive fortresses like this, how could it not have things to share about itself?

Hohenwerfen castle’s history spans a century, fashioned as a jail for Protestants and peasant rioters and as the home of Archduke Johann. The jail was surrounded by plaster walls that were four meters thick, and with a nine meter long drop down to a dark cell, where most prisoners either went blind or mad. A pitch here, where hot liquid would be dropped from, gave rise to the German phrase “to have a pitch,” or to have bad luck, for the unfortunate souls caught in the fire.

The falcons were caged outside, in an enclosed outdoor section of the fortress, and I paused to admire their huge presence and even larger wingspan. Hohenwerfen eventually became a hunting base and an army training camp, fitting for a place that didn’t concern itself with formalities. Maybe being so encumbered with this terrain was altogether humbling and eye-opening enough that people reflected on things differently.

We were brought up to the bell tower to tear up at 360 degree views of the river and houses below, the mountains from every direction that traveled on seemingly forever. It truly looked like a painting; and it was so windy in there I felt like I was at an all-immersive museum, looking at a work of art as the effects of what it felt like for the artist to actually paint it swirled around me.

 

I remember thinking that this had been worth the climb.

And on the way down, each stuffed with a slice of Sachertorte cake, I almost forgot how the sun had earlier been a menace.

Would you visit Werfen?

“I HAVE TEARS IN MY EYES. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL HERE.” – An actual quote from my good friend, Kayla, and I, repeated at least once an hour every day that we spent in Salzburg, Austria.

The hills are very alive with the sound of music in the city of the famed movie musical.

Most everything listed is either free or covered with the Salzburg Card, which can be purchased for a 24-hour (€27), 48-hour (€36) or 72-hour (€42) period of time. We bought the 48-hour card, which gave plenty of time to catch everything we wanted to and saved us over €70. Two days is plenty of time to explore the city, but with three days you can finish up anything you may not have gotten to in the other days.

1. Hike and eat Apfelstrudel atop Untersberg Mountain

Untersberg Mountain is a mastiff of Berchtesgarden Alps, spanning from Berchtesgaden, Germany to Salzburg, Austria. A cable car takes you to the top, soaring over rolling mountains of trees, and at the top you are free to take whatever hiking trail you choose. We took the “shortest” route, whose overall time was one hour, give or take a few minutes. On the way back, stop at the restaurant near the cable cars and order a slice of apfelstrudel. The warm, apple treat is the cherry on top of nature’s glory. Plus, it’s on top of a mountain–what could be better?

2. Take a cable car to the Fortress

A three minute ride carries you to the entrance of Hohensalzburg Fortress, where you could spend hours passing through the individual rooms and museums located inside. Don’t miss the marionette museum! And take time in the Fortress’s personal square, where children frolic and couples find relief on benches. Drink in the spectacular views to be had because, really, they aren’t hard to find.

3. Visit Stift Nonnberg

Go in the morning, for quiet, sweeping views of the mountains and the city. You’ll also beat any crowds that may appear later in the day, meaning you will have the abbey to yourself to take photos, observe every detail, sit and find a moment for prayer.

4. Tour the Stiegl Brewery

A sixty minute tour takes you through the history and process of creating Stiegl beer, and finishes with a trip to the restaurant for three complimentary beer samples. If you’re not a big beer drinker, try Stiegl’s grapefruit beer: it’s sweet enough that it doesn’t leave a bitter-beer taste in your mouth.

5. Check out Hellbrunn Palace

Take the Trick Fountains tour before heading in to the grandiose palace. The grounds are a splendid place to walk, and on the way you’ll find the Sound of Music Gazebo.

6. Climb to the observation deck at the Museum der Moderne Mönchsberg

For the can’t-miss sights of the Old Town. Sunset is the sweetest time to head over, and a walking path behind the museum allows you a quick escape into woods. (There are lamps along the path, but don’t head in once the sun has dipped below the horizon.) You could sit there forever as the light changes and old world shifts to new world.

7. Do your own Sound of Music Tour.

We took helpful hints from this blog post by No Money, Will Travel. Don’t spend money on the tour bus when you can reach everything far easier, and in greater depth by yourself.

8. Try Mozartkugel chocolates

Pistachio, chocolate and nougat all come together brilliantly in these candy balls. Sublime.

9. People watch in Residenzplatz

Sometimes there’s a race that passes through; other times, it’s brimming with people at outdoor restaurants, or sitting by the fountain with a coffee. Either way, there is always something and somewhere there.

10. Read a book in the Mirabell Gardens

If we had had time to do so, I’m sure it would have happened. Sit by the fountain, stroll through the twirling pattern of flowers, and open up a novel. One of the best places to take a load off.

11. Step inside St. Peter’s Cemetery and Cathedral

The cemetery is incredibly well-maintained, bursting with flowers and trees. (Another Sound of Music filming location). Inside the walls of the cemetery you will find the entrance to the catacombs, which are another must-see. Clamber through the hollowed out stone that rises above the city and, of course, bear witness to those unbeatable views.

12. Grab a different slice of cake every day

Need I say more? There are cafes on every street corner, so you can’t go wrong anywhere. My favorite of our time there was

13. Peruse the Christmas Store.

Located on Getriedegasse is a shop dedicated to eggs. Not any old eggs: beautifully crafted egg shells, individually painted for almost all holidays. Take a while to examine each work of art (because that’s what they are) and coo over the characters and scenes you find. The little discrepancies between identical eggs are the coolest part of all. They dangle overhead on bare branches, and sit warmly on miniature pine trees throughout. Go there on the first day, because you’ll definitely want to come back.

And not just to the Christmas Store: to the city as a whole.

What tops your Salzburg list?